My rating: 7.5/10. Possibly subject to move a bit higher after I’ve had a chance to mull it over more deeply, and have read some more of the author’s other books. Not bad at all, nicely diverting, but it didn’t immediately GRAB me. I have a feeling these might grow on one, though. We’ll see. I’m open to the possibility. I quite enjoy the hunt for obscurish vintage books, as long as there is a reasonable possibility of success, both in finding the quarry, and in finding it worth the trouble once it has been captured.
I have been watching for Thirkell for years in my rambles – as you may have gathered by now I am a used-book enthusiast – but this is the first one I’ve ever stumbled upon. Obviously not terribly popular in our region of B.C.! Must see what the library system offers, now that I’ve dipped my toe in and found the water temptingly warm. Or I could just be brave and go ahead and order some more from the various vendors on Abe, though some of the prices made me gasp a bit when I browsed them this morning, on spec as it were.
Like D.E. Stevenson, whom I’d never even heard of in pre-book-blog-reading days, Angela Thirkell has a deeply devoted following among lovers of the vintage “middlebrow” genre. I’d also read a certain number of negative reviews – “shallow”, “fluff”, “just couldn’t get into them”, “you know the author just whipped these off for the income and rather despised her readers, don’t you?” – stuff like that. So I was cautiously optimistic.
Well, I’ve finally gotten my hands on a Thirkell to sample for myself, and with mixed (but rather high, as the fans decidedly outweighed the critics in blog world)expectations I carefully delved in. Carefully, because the old Penguin I now possess has had a long career already and is gently but persistently shedding pages, as old Penguins are wont to do. It’s been around. The price sticker on the front is from Australia, and inside the front cover the original bookseller has rubber stamped “Angus & Robertson, Melbourne”. It’s now a long way from home, here in the northern interior of British Columbia.
I was initially rather put off by the author’s parody of English village names in the first chapter – we are introduced to these improbabilities: Worsted (that was all right), shortly followed by Winter Overcotes (ack!), Shearings, Winter Underclose (oh, for heaven’s sake, stop already!), Lambton, Fleece, Woolram, Skeyne, Staple Park, and Lamb’s Piece. Rocked me a bit. I hope it’s not going to be one of those books, I thought to myself, a laboured and dated farce full of punning and “in” jokes. But after the starting jolt to get the thing in motion the author settled down to her story, and I settled in to enjoy it.
From The Angela Thirkell Society Website, here is a quick condensation of the plot, with a bonus reading recommendation. I would add, also ideal for reading in a warmly cozy chair with snowflakes drifting down outdoors, which is our present situation. Most conducive to reading about summer!
August Folly. Takes place in Worsted in East Barsetshire. Most of the plot centers around the rehearsing and production of Euripides’ Hyppolyta, directed by Mrs. Palmer and involving the Deans, Tebbens, and many of the villagers. Highlights: Richard Tebben is infatuated with Rachel Dean, in addition to pouting about his poor showing at Oxford; Betty Dean, Oxford-bound, drives everyone crazy with her know-it-all attitude; Helen Dean is jealous of her favorite brother Laurence’s attentions to Margaret Tebben; Rachel Dean worries about her heart murmur; Charles Fanshawe fears he is too old for Helen Dean; Mrs. Tebben remembers her long-ago and never-expressed fondness for Mr. Fanshawe, who was her tutor; Jessica Dean is rescued from a bull by Richard Tebben. Richard gets a job with Mr. Dean, Laurence wins Margaret, Charles wins Helen. Outstanding light entertainment, ideal for reading on a shady porch on a hot afternoon in July with strawberry ice cream and tea – which is how I read it!
I must add a note as to how much I appreciated the several brief vignettes featuring Modestine the donkey and Gunnar the tomcat in the midnight pasture. Totally unexpected, but most welcome.
A few minutes earlier Modestine, lounging about in the little shed down in the field that was his summer quarters, saw two points of fire approach.
‘I suppose that’s you as usual,’ he said ungraciously. ‘What’s the news?’
‘Nothing particular,’ said Gunnar, settling himself on some old sacks. ‘The usual dull evening. Some people from the Dower House came to dinner. Now, there they do keep a good kitchen. Chicken nearly every day, so the cat there tells me, young Kitty Dean.’
‘I daresay,’ said Modestine. ‘Some like chicken, some don’t. I don’t.’
‘Know what I did tonight?’ asked Gunnar.
Modestine only went on chewing some grass.
‘Drank all their sherry,’ said Gunnar, who needed no encouragement to talk about himself. ‘They left it in the drawing-room while they ate chicken in the dining-room. Never offered me chicken, so I drank their sherry.’
‘Was it good?’ asked Modestine. ‘I don’t hold with sherry. Give me a nice pail of water, or a good green pond, and I’m perfectly satisfied.’
‘Ignorant, that’s what you are,’ said Gunnar, ‘and prejudiced. Vegetarians always are …’
So there you have it. A restrained enthusiasm for my first Angela Thirkell. Quite curious about the next experience. Any recommendations, those of you who are old Barsetshire hands?